Lilah Gagne feels that she lives in a “broadband desert” in Meigs County, the county directly south of Athens County.
Gagne, an Ohio University freshman studying journalism, said she cannot get internet where she lives unless it is through DirecTV, which she found expensive, or HughesNet, which only allows for a limited amount of gigabytes.
Without internet access beyond cellular data, she became dependent on her cell phone in public places to get through the academic year.
“I found refuge in the Athens Public Library parking lot after it closed, as well as fast food restaurants like Taco Bell because it had free Wi-Fi,” Gagne said in an email.
Some commuter students experiencing low connectivity find it impacts school work.
“I rely on my internet connection to complete my assignments at home. In today’s world, all my assignments, tests and resources are online,” Gabrielle Parker, an undecided freshman, said in an email. “Without strong connectivity, I struggle to keep up with my studies or even basic communication to professors or friends throughout the community.”
The broadband issue is not only affecting the students’ academics, it also seems to create a social disconnect.
“Social media is everything,” Gagne said in an email. “I felt disconnected from my friends and my peers because I was unable to see what was happening on Instagram.”
A lack of broadband access encouraged Gagne to promote change by speaking out to magazines, national podcasts and the Federal Communications Commission and address the issue at an OU Student Senate meeting.
“It’s very important to me to be able to spread this message,” Gagne said in an email.
Regional campuses also deal with broadband connectivity issues, OU President Duane Nellis said in September. Talking with people from those areas directly is one way to combat the problem.
OU aims to expand broadband in southeast Ohio as an outreach effort through the Southeast Ohio Broadband Coalition.
Members of the Southeast Ohio Broadband Coalition are meeting with policy makers to raise awareness for the challenge, University Spokeswoman Carly Leatherwood said. They are also exploring potential state and federal funding opportunities to support broadband expansion in the region.
“One group alone cannot solve this issue,” Leatherwood said in an email. “Senior staff has taken a leadership role in forming the Southeast Ohio Broadband Coalition, which is comprised of public and private sector members working with a common goal of building the broadband infrastructure that will make Southeast Ohio a place where people want to live, work and raise a family.”
Nellis is working with local, congressional and state leaders, while students advocate for greater access to the internet.
People in the region have shared their own challenges to stress that broadband is something that needs to be improved.
“You go to some of these communities, even when I drive to Columbus for meetings, where it’s dark and my phone doesn’t work,” Nellis said. “We’re coming into an electronic business global profile ... where people can market their products. It doesn’t matter where you live, but they need to have access.”